Wind energy and climate response
Sir, – Justin Moran (Letters, January 6th) is correct in making the argument that the merits of wind energy must be set within the context of a climate emergency. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear, there is an urgent need to decarbonise electricity, heat and transport systems. In essence, that means doing away with coal, oil, gas and peat, and switching to renewable energy resources.
Yet it is not sufficient for the Irish Wind Energy Association to refer to “wind energy” in such an abstract and general way.
Wind energy is not a singular thing. It has many dimensions that become all too clear when made concrete in a particular place or community. Reducing this complexity impoverishes public discourse and fails to be transparent about the challenges that lie ahead in addressing climate change.
First, it presumes that we can take a natural resource and both exploit and privatise it for human benefit.
Second, it requires a supportive national policy regime, which likely offers subsidies or guaranteed prices to wind developers that, in turn, impacts the bills that consumers pay.
Third, it necessitates the manufacture of thousands of turbines, likely not in Ireland but overseas, using scarce and precious minerals, and their transport by ship, aircraft or truck.
Fourth, it involves an instigating developer, which could be a local person or community group but more often is a multinational company with shareholders from outside of Ireland, few local or national loyalties, and potentially low levels of public trust.
Fifth, it leads to landscapes and seascapes becoming significantly altered, even “industrialised” for at least 25 years, with significant changes to our sense of place.
Sixth, it requires a grid infrastructure that can handle variable output and deliver wind-generated electricity reliably to where it is needed.
Seventh, it involves a planning process with detailed and lengthy environmental and social impact assessments, limited time for public response and potentially low levels of perceived transparency and fairness.
Finally, it presumes some attempt to share benefit fairly and transparently with the local communities who are directly impacted by specific projects.
The 2030 target of 70 per cent renewable electricity is one that the majority of society is likely to support, yet there are numerous, alternative paths to reaching this goal. Being open and transparent about the complexities and challenges involved in “wind energy” – as well as other fossil fuel and renewable energy resources and technologies – is a necessary precondition for genuine, honest and informed public debate.
Mechanisms to encourage civic input, civility and argumentative complexity, notably citizens’ assemblies, can inform and legitimise energy policy goals. Only then can we ensure that an urgent response to the climate emergency is also one that is democratic, legitimate, fair and leaves no-one behind. – Yours, etc,